How to Not Be a Victim

You become what you think.

  • How we interpret the problems in our lives often determines how well we respond.
  • For some, problems easily turn into a story of victimhood, which increases powerlessness and anxiety.
  • The key is being aware of how we talk and think about a problem and then adopting a more realistic lens.

You were hoping for a promotion at work, but the company is financially struggling and has frozen positions. You’ve been nagged with lower back pain for a few days, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. You and your partner haven’t had sex in a good while, and you seem to be growing distant.

Life sometimes feels like an endless string of problems—the non-promotion, the back pain, the relationship, but also the flat tire, the sick child, and the rain-filled vacation. Certainly, some problems are bigger than others; some are overwhelming and even tragic, creating trauma and grief, but many everyday problems are more neutral—to an outsider, they seem like concerns, disruptions, something to pay attention to but not life-derailing. But what determines how big or small the problem appears to be usually depends not on the event but the story we tell ourselves about it, the frame we place around it.

While one person may view the sick child or the flat tire as a good excuse to get out of the long, boring training at work, another sees it as yet another way life is out to get you. The job freeze is a tale of never getting a break, the back pain a sign of the beginning of the end of ongoing and inevitable physical deterioration, and the relationship distance is sure evidence that your partner doesn’t care about you, never really cared about you, or is always on the brink of eventually leaving.


How to Not Be a Victim

1. You become what you think and believe: The downward spiral

This is where it is easy to get into trouble and fall into a victim mentality that can quickly lead to a self-fulfilling downward spiral. Feeling like a victim automatically drains any sense of power. Rather than pushing back or acting, you avoid the problem or sit around licking your wounds. Because your emotions trigger tunnel vision, your mind drifts back to the past, mentally gathering evidence to support your case for victimhood—old injustices and resentments, unfairness, and neglect—pulling you down further and keeping those anxiety and depression circuits in the brain continually firing and getting stronger. In order to avoid this downward spiral, you need to be aware of what you’re thinking and saying to yourself. Through this awareness, you have the opportunity to change your thinking, your story, and the outcome.

How to stop being a victim
Easier said than done, of course, yet absolutely doable. Here’s how to get started:

How to Not Be a Victim

2. Acknowledge your emotions.

You’re disappointed about the job, frustrated about the pain, worried about the state of the relationship. Paying attention to how you feel is the antidote to denial, avoidance, and magical thinking, which can all keep you from dealing with reality and taking positive action.

How to Not Be a Victim

3. Be careful of labels and catastrophizing.

Those struggling with long-term chronic pain understandably have learned to rebuild their lives around their pain—they think about it all the time, easily feel that it will never get better, and are forced to suffer. One technique that has been effective in helping such individuals cope is somatic tracking. Rather than talking and thinking in terms of “pain” and their negative story, patients in treatment sessions are instructed to simply focus on and track the sensations themselves—those feelings of tightness or throbbing, how they ebb and flow or move about. As they do this, they are coached to say to themselves these are simply body sensations rather than more injury, that they are safe, and that there is nothing they need to do, nothing to fix but just observe. The result is that in a matter of minutes, their “pain” diminishes.

Similarly, you want to be careful about how you talk to yourself about your problem. Allowing yourself to go down the rabbit hole of being “trapped in that loser job," that “life is unfair,” and that “it’s only a matter of time before the relationship blows up” triggers collecting evidence that heightens your distress. You will always find what you seek, and what you see will become your reality, albeit distorted.

Like the patients with chronic pain, you too want to change your language and labels; think in terms of a “current problem” that you need to take care of, a “situation” to address, or a “challenge” to tackle. Think “temporary” or “right now”. Think, “But I can do this.” Steer away from the “can’t,” “never,” “always.”

How to Not Be a Victim

4. Know what you can control and can’t.

You have no control over the company's financial state, but you can talk with your supervisor about the future outlook or look for another job. You probably can't prevent the flat tire or the sick child, but you can get the tire fixed, nurse your child, or take her to the doctor and do the same for your back. You can talk to your partner about the state of the relationship, and consider couples counseling if it doesn't seem to help.

How to Not Be a Victim

5. Come up with a plan of action.

The antidote is having an action plan. See what your supervisor says, track what unfolds over the next few months, or start looking for a job to assure yourself that you have options. Give yourself another week of stretching exercises and icing, but get an appointment on the books now with your doctor. Define what changes you and your partner need to focus on and if you seem to be still struggling after a couple of weeks, circle back, fine-tune the plan, or make an appointment with a counselor.

Yes, life can be challenging, unpredictable, and filled with problems. But you can decide the lens through which you see your problems and what story you tell yourself.

Don’t let yourself become a victim of your own life

Keywords: Psychology | Victim | Mental health | People | Life quality

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